Sunday, August 15, 2010

Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) - First Polar Explorer to Reach the South Pole

Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) is one of the most successful polar explorers ever born. Amundsens first experience in the Antarctic was with Adrien de Gerlache's 1899 Belgica Expedition. He became the first to travel the Northwest Passage, in his ship Gjøa in 1903-06. On 14 December, 1911, Amundsen and four others reached the South Pole, a month before Robert Scott.

On 8 December, Amundsen and his men passed Shackleton's farthest south, 88°23'S. Now they were only 95 miles from the South Pole. The dogs were hungry and exhausted, the men had many sores and frostbitten faces. The closer they came to the Pole, the more Amundsen worried that Scott had already beaten them. The temptation to race on, at full speed, was shared by everyone.

At 3:00 pm, on Friday, December 14, 1911, there was a simultaneous cry of "Halt!" as the sledge meters registered their arrival at the South Pole. They had achieved their goal. Symbolic of their struggle in unity, each of the men, with their weathered and frostbitten hands, grasped the Norwegian flag and planted it firmly at the geographical South Pole. Amundsen named the plain King Haakon VII's Plateau. There were festivities in the tent that evening with each man sharing a little seal meat. At midnight observations were taken that put them at 89° 56'S. Arrangements were now made to encircle the camp with a radius of approximately twelve and a half miles.

At noon, on December 17, the observations had been completed and it was certain the men had done all that could be done. In order to come a few inches closer to the actual Pole, Hanssen and Bjaaland went out four geographical miles and promptly returned. Following the festival dinner, preparations for departure began. A tent was erected, naming it Poleheim, with Amundsen leaving a message inside for Scott, along with a letter for King Haakon. Thirty-nine days later the party returned to Framheim, as planned, with all five men and 11 dogs "hale and hearty". The month-long voyage back to Tasmania was a frustrating time for Amundsen, who was now quite anxious to be the first to announce the news of their achievement. On March 7, 1912, Amundsen finally cabled his brother Leon with the historic news.

Robert Scott is presumed to have died on 29 March 1912, possibly a day later. The positions of the bodies in the tent, when it was discovered eight months later, suggested that Scott was the last of the three to die. The bodies of Scott and his companions were discovered by a search party on 12 November 1912 and their records retrieved. Their final camp became their tomb; a high cairn of snow was erected over it, topped by a roughly fashioned cross. In January 1913, before Terra Nova left for home, a large wooden cross was made by the ship's carpenters, inscribed with the names of the lost party and Tennyson's line from his poem Ulysses: "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield", and was erected on Observation Hill overlooking Hut Point.

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